Speaker highlights firsthand accounts of climate change

Babbling Brooks Column
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     David Thoreson is a world traveler. He’s a sailor, explorer, adventurer, and photographer. While all these things make him a notable figure, having heard his professional life’s story last week, my take-away centered on climate change.

     Thoreson is the first American to attempt to cross the Northwest Passage in both directions. He attempted to cross in 1994, unfortunately unsuccessful. Then in 2007 and 2009, Thoreson made two successful trips. His career at sea encompasses over 65,000 nautical miles. This route connects the northern Atlantic and Pacific oceans via the Arctic Ocean, along the northern coast of North America. Sailors make their way through several waterways in the north known as the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

     In fact, Thoreson said more people climb, or attempt to climb, Mount Everest than survive sailing through the Northwest Passage.

     It might surprise you that Thoreson is from the Midwest, Lake Okoboji, Iowa, to be exact. He claims the waterways in North West Iowa where he grew up sailing helped to prepare him for his explorer lifestyle.

     Thoreson’s visit to Monticello was made possible by the Monticello Public Library. His talk was one of four hosted at the library in connection to their “Pushing the Limits” adult STEM programming.

     “If you could survive the winters in Northwest Iowa, you could survive about anything,” said Thoreson.

     So why was this trip through the Northwest Passage in 1994 so different than his second 13 years later? Climate change!

     Thoreson said he is fascinated by climates and weather patterns.

     So in 1994, he witnessed tremendous ice pack in the north, and that was during the summer months. Thoreson said as their ship made its way through, it became clear that they would either risk losing their lives or risk losing their ship. So, the crew retreated some 3,000 miles.

     “The Northwest Passage won again,” Thoreson said of the numerous attempts people had made over the years.

     In the summer of 2007, Thoreson and a crew attempted again. After advances in technology since 1994, he said the crew studied ice charts and weather patterns and learned that there was less ice in the Arctic this time around.

     “We just might be able to make it through,” he said.

     Thoreson said in 1994, his crew got stuck in Landcaster Sound in northern Canada. His second time around, “No ice whatsoever.

     “I witnessed climate change with my own two eyes,” he said.

     During the 2007 exploration, Thoreson said they sailed 6,000 miles and never touched a piece of ice in the oceans.

     “We saw a 40 percent loss to the polar ice cap,” he said.

     When Thoreson crossed the Passage again in 2009, this time with a crew of environmental scientists. The idea was to study the oceans, collect data, and bring that information back to the states for educational purposes. He worked with NASA and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) in his endeavors.

     “Our oceans and seas are under stress right now,” he said. “It’s nothing about politics; it’s actually happening.”

     Unfortunately, the idea of climate change has turned political. Some political leaders either don’t see it as an issue, or simply refuse to admit climate change is real. Recently, our newly elected President, Donald Trump, placed a freeze on the EPA and other environmental agencies. They were asked to cease contracts.

     Thoreson said just like anything, the world needs to transition from fossil fuels to sustainable, clean energy.

     “If climate change is making us change into a cleaner, less polluting way in which we live,” explained Thoreson, “that’s a win-win.”

     Thoreson published a book about his voyages around the world, complete with his very own photographs taken aboard the ships. A copy of his book, “Over the Horizon: Exploring the Edges of a Changing Planet,” is available for check-out at the Monticello library.


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